The Medical College Admission Exam (MCAT) is widely considered to be one of the most difficult academic tests in existence. It is the official test a person must pass in order to be admitted to a school of medicine in the United States. Some medical colleges in Canada also use the exam. Developed and overseen by the Association of American Medical Colleges, it is given approximately 25 times per year at Prometric Testing Centers, which are located in cities all across America. It has been in use for over 75 years (it is updated on a regular basis), and every year over 70,000 people take the exam, even though there are only about 20,000 openings for new medical students each year in America.
There are four sections on the exam: Physical Sciences, Verbal Reasoning, Writing Sample, and Biological Sciences. Physical Sciences (70 minutes) contains 52 questions, Verbal Reasoning (60 minutes) has 40 questions, and Biological Sciences (70 minutes) has 52 questions. On the Writing Sample section, the test taker is given 60 minutes to write two different essays on assigned topics. Except for the Writing Sample, all questions are multiple choice. The MCAT is not an adaptive test, which means that a student can't shorten the length of the test by answering harder questions correctly. Scores on the multiple choice sections range from 1 to 15. The essays are scored differently. Each one is graded twice, and given a score between 1 and 6. Then all four scores are added up and the sum becomes the raw score.
Most students take the MCAT in their junior or senior year of college. It's important to take it in time to have the scores available when one begins applying to medical schools, but it's also important not to take the test before one is ready, as a low score will be a serious handicap when it comes to winning admission to medical school. Because the number of medical school openings every year is very limited, and is dwarfed by the number of people wanting to enroll in medical school, the admissions process is very selective. At elite medical schools, the process is extremely selective, and only those students with both MCAT scores and grade point averages in the highest echelons have a chance of being admitted. Competition is fierce, and it gets tougher every year. There may be some relief in sight, as there is talk of several more medical schools opening in the not too distant future. If that actually comes to pass, getting into medical school might become a little less difficult. Even then, though, it won't be easy, and the best way of maximizing one's chances will still be to earn a high score on the MCAT.